Today we're making one of the most important—and overdue—changes to Slate in many years: We're adding in-page comments to Slate articles and blog posts. We've always known that Slate's intelligent, engaged readers—yes, I'm talking to you—are an extraordinary group, but we haven't done a very good job involving you in the site. Whenever we ask for your ideas, you dazzle us (see: the Write Like Sarah Palin contest, the Fix Airline Security contest, the Pass Health Care Reform contest). And the quality of discussion in the Fray, our longtime reader forum, is exceptional.
But the Fray has major shortcomings compared with the in-page commenting used by most of our competitors. For example, only a small minority of Slate users read the Fray, and an even smaller group actually contributes to it. Fray discussion is isolated from Slatearticles and is too insular.
We wanted to find a way to ensure that all our readers could see and join in a lively conversation about Slate's work. That is why we're thrilled to announce the launch of an in-page commenting system called Echo, powered by the Web developer JS-Kit, that will finally allow readers to post their thoughts directly to our articles.
We recognize that we're late to in-page commenting. Our competitors adopted it months or years ago. But waiting has allowed us to learn from them and pick a platform that has, we hope, most of the best commenting features available. So, how does it work?
Echo will be very familiar to those of you who comment or read comments on other sites. At the bottom of this page—and every Slate article page or blog post or Slatest item—you see two bright orange buttons. One lists the number of comments made about the article. The other invites you to add your own comment. If you click on the number of comments button, you'll be taken to the bottom of the page, where you can read through all the comments made by fellow readers. If you click on the "Add Yours" button, you'll be taken to a box, also at the bottom of the page where you can submit your comment after signing in. You can log in (via the "From" box) using your pre-existing Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, or FriendFeed accounts. If you don't have any of those accounts, or don't want to use them, you can register for a JS-Kit account and log in that way, too. (We will eventually be adding a Slate commenting identity as well, allowing you to sign in another way.)
One of the best features of Echo is that it allows you to post your comment not only on Slate but also on other social media. By clicking on the "To" button, you can choose to add your comment to your Facebook feed, your Twitter account, and so on, allowing you to share your thoughts with your friends across the Web.
Another interesting feature in the comment box is the "Follow" button, which allows you to register for e-mail notifications alerting you whenever anyone has responded to your comment.
After you post your comment, it appears immediately below the box, at the top of the whole roster of comments. (The most recent comment appears at the top, so yours will move down the page as others weigh in.) Slate readers can reply to your comment and signal whether they like it. You can also "flag" comments that are abusive, which will alert our moderator to check the problem entry, and he remove it if it violates our rules of the road. This flagging is one way we'll ensure a civil discussion. Requiring users to sign in—and thus barring anonymous comments—is another important way to improve discussion. These upgraded authentication and moderation capabilities will, we hope, discourage trolls and sockpuppets and enable us to better highlight the work of our finest reader-contributors.
Yet another significant improvement on the Fray is Echo's profile pages. These provide a complete history of each user's comments. You can use it to add a photo avatar and post links to personal Web sites and blogs. You can also merge your Twitter, Google, and Facebook identities so that your commenting history includes posts made from all of these accounts. Starting soon, Slate writers and editors will also be identified by distinctive images, allowing readers to see how they're responding to comments about their work.
While this commenting launch is a big first step, keep in mind that it is only a first step. We will be making ongoing improvements to the commenting system in the coming months, and we are hungry for your input on the upsides and downsides of the new platform. So please, send us your feedback! Try out the new system throughout Slate and post your suggestions for how to improve it in the comments at the bottom of this article or send a suggestion privately by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just one more thing.
Regular Fray users are probably asking themselves: But what about the Fray? Before I answer that, a few words about the Fray and its users. Over its 13 years, The Fray been home to an often soaring level of discourse between our readers and writers, provided a means for high-profile public figures and respected policy experts to respond to Slate pieces, and offered users the chance to present poignant first-hand reporting on the most important events of our time. Fray alumni have gone on to produce popular blogs such as Instapundit.com, and one of our former regular commenters, or Fraysters, was the first blogger to ask a question at a White House press briefing. We have been fortunate to host such high-quality conversations and are reminded daily that our readers are among the most intelligent, best-educated news consumers in the world.
The Fray will remain, for the time being, as a separate, parallel platform. Nothing will change with the current Fray. I repeat: Nothing will change with the current Fray. You will still be able to post and view comments in the same way that you have since our last redesign three years ago. We are leaving the Fray up for now because we want to see how the two reader forums work together before making any decisions about the long-term prospects for the Fray. But we feel that Echo is not only a major upgrade over the Fray, it is also the future of commenting on our site. Without the means to post comments directly to article pages, the contributions of Slate's Fraysters have been kept hidden in a virtual attic. The Fray is not only difficult to find, it is often complex for newcomers to navigate, with an awkward sign-in process and a complicated layout. The new system goes a long way toward rectifying these problems.
Please keep in mind that the launch of Echo is not an attempt to kill off long-established and intensely devoted Fray communities. We are proud of these communities and grateful for the loyalty that they have shown us over many years. Our hope, and expectation, is that these communities will successfully transition onto our article pages, and will thrive there, in the spotlight that they richly deserve.